A California university is selling a 1993 painting by Kerry James Marshall at auction next month to raise funds for its research program.
Loma Linda University received the artwork from a local doctor only three years ago, and proceeds from the sale will go the school’s genomics research division.
Beauty Examined (1993) will hit the auction block on May 19 during a Sotheby’s New York evening sale devoted to ultra contemporary art. The work is expected to fetch between $8 million and $12 million. It has no financial guarantee, a spokesperson for the auction house said.
The work depicts a stark Black figure lying on its back. One arm is rendered with open flesh and bones, a detail that alludes to the subject being used for anatomical study.
It was painted in the same year Marshall had his debut solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. The artist’s renderings of the Black experience would go on to become some of the most coveted works produced by a living artist.
The work was gifted to the school in 2019 by Los Angeles pathologist Charles A. Sims, a Loma Linda alumnus, one of a number of the artist’s works Sims collected together with his wife, Nancy. He loaned the works, including Beauty Examined, to a widely acclaimed Marshall retrospective that traveled the United States between 2016 and 2017.
Beauty Examined is the highest-priced Marshall work to be offered at auction since his 1997 canvas Past Times, which sold for $21.1 million in 2018 to music mogul Sean Combs.
The result put Marshall among the few contemporary Black artists whose work has sold for more than $10 million at auction. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Mark Bradford are among those who have crossed that threshold. Basquiat, whose record stands at $110.5 million, regularly commands the highest prices of the three.
If Beauty Examined reaches its high estimate, it will be among Marshall’s top three works to sell at auction, behind Vignette 19 (2014), which Jeff Bezos bought at Sotheby’s in 2019 for $18.4 million.
The sale of Marshall’s works at auction has caused controversy in the past. In 2018, the artist condemned the city of Chicago’s plan to sell his mural painting Knowledge and Wonder (1995), which had been given an estimate between $10 million and $15 million. He produced the piece for a public library, and said the planned sale showed that the city had “wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.” The city subsequently halted the sale after widespread criticism about allocation of the proceeds going to operating costs for the building.